PAX 2010: Warren Spector Keynote

PAX 2010: Warren Spector Keynote

The creator of Deus Ex thinks that the survival of games as an art form could depend on hardcore gamers embracing the people who play FarmVille.

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I embrace people playing casual games even casual games I hate, but farmvile? thats a bridge too far.

If I am going to embrace my friend's mother, I DO IT BY MY OWN ACCORD!

There's nothing wrong with casual gaming, mainstream gaming, hardcore gaming, extreme single-gaming, board gaming, card gaming, online gaming, massively multiplayer gaming, roleplay gaming, console gaming, PC gaming, arcade gaming.... *a moment of breath*

...if you play, you're doing it right. Hating another's game is a mistake. Games are individual things, collections of things, and a whole singular thing. Gaming is both art and crap.

Get this through your heads! Gaming exists and on the whole it's pretty good! Does it matter who is playing, what it being played, where and how? As long as the games you enjoy exist and continue to exist, and with some luck continue to be made, then stop complaining that some games get more or less attention! It doesn't matter!

/rant over

I'm with Spector on this one. We don't need solidarity or flawless unity, but cutting down the insecurity, insularity and bitterness would be nice.

I'm with Spector.

These "casuals" aren't the enemy. And who knows, maybe if we weren't such asses to them, they'd get into some of the deeper stuff.

My only problem with casual gaming is when it bleeds on to established hardcore titles. Sure a company wants to broaden their audience, but don't ignore your long term fans in the process.

The reason we the gamers flip out over casual gaming is because there isn't an infinite amount of money to make video games.
Casual gaming dilutes the pool, so to speak. And we don't generally like casual games like we do -regular- games.

I hate to say this but the world is full of idiots and are culture merely plays to dumbing down now they want to muscle in and dumb down a bastion of art and culture warren spector you have sold out to my mind to be saying this.

Warren Spector is right in saying that we all need to join forces in order to fight the evil that assails us. Casual gamers have numbers, but are generally laid back. Hardcore gamers have the passion, but not the numbers needed to really influence politics. Casual games, and casual gamers have always been looked down upon by hardcore gamers, no matter what influence they may have, they are not the real problem that needs to be addressed. We have to consider that a world of stupidity now threatens games, and game developers. We have to understand that the real enemy is not in casual games, it is in the ignorance and blind bigotry of some very stupid people. Casual gamers are likely going to be the least affected by any outcome, but they might be able to be the driving force that can turn the tide.

I think the Venerable Mr Spector is missing the point a little. Certainly, there are a small number of vocal arseholes who will complain about casual gaming simply because their hobby is no longer "underground" enough for them, but for the majority of gamers who're uneasy over the casual influx, it's not about that.

The problem, as many see it, is that publishers aren't making the types of games they want to play very much any more. We know how monolithic businesses work, corporations are too prevalent in the modern world for it to be otherwise, and we know that businesses don't care about customers, they care about money. Customers are a means to an end. If they can make more money by churning out casual games for the Wii, Move or Kinect, then they will.

That's what the unease among "traditional"(I hate the term "hardcore") gamers is about - We feel we're being slowly abandoned.

Previous PAX keynoters had talked about how special gamers and nerds were, but Spector said he thought we should look at the ways in which we weren't special. "We're a group like a lot of others now. There are more people like us all the time." Every once in a while, we should celebrate the things that no longer made us different, said Spector. "We spent 20 years trying to convince people that we were cool (to stop them beating us up), trying to show them just how cool games were ... and we won."
"But we need to get past not wanting to let other people in the club," he amended. "We won, and we feel bad about it." You can't close Pandora's Box once it's been opened - people are starting to love games, it's become mainstream, and that's a good thing. Every outsider activity that has survived has become an insider activity. In his day, Shakespeare was decried as being for lowlives. Movies were worthless, until everyone was watching movies. When everyone watches TV, you can't argue it's dangerous.

Honestly I don't care about the "casuals", as long as they stay away from me as when they were lepers they can live in peace xD

What I do have something against is "gaming" turning into another "mainstream industry" (which it ultimately is unfortunately) that turns the quality of respective products and their depth into basically watered down shit in order to make games "that sell really well". It happened with movies, it happened with music and it is happening with games since the "X360" and "PS3" became so popular and mainstream.

Take Warren Spector for example...
He did the Wing Commander Series
He did the Ultima Series
System Shock
Thief Series
Deus Ex Series
...and now he has "Epic Mickey" xD

I couldn't care less if those existed separate from awesome deep, challenging and intelligent games, but what they did is largely REPLACING them.

Dexter111:

Honestly I don't care about the "casuals", as long as they stay away from me as when they were lepers they can live in peace xD

What I do have something against is "gaming" turning into another "mainstream industry" (which it ultimately is unfortunately) that turns the quality of respective products and their depth into basically watered down shit in order to make games "that sell really well". It happened with movies, it happened with music and it is happening with games since the "X360" and "PS3" became so popular and mainstream.

Take Warren Spector for example...
He did the Wing Commander Series
He did the Ultima Series
System Shock
Thief Series
Deus Ex Series
...and now he has "Epic Mickey" xD

I couldn't care less if those existed separate from awesome deep, challenging and intelligent games, but what they did is largely REPLACING them.

You know, for all we disagree I can usually respect the points you make and see where you're coming from. This time, I just disagree. I don't think that the presence of mainstream gaming/music/movies replaces the other things. They'll still exist, but there will be things in addition to games targeted at the core.

I think it's a bit unfair of you to assume that the man who made Thief and Deus Ex is selling out just because of the subject matter. It's like he directly said: Gamers need to be able to let a man who made a game about a cyborg in a trenchcoat and sunglasses make a game about a little cartoon mouse. If he does Epic Mickey and successfully incorporates "hardcore" gameplay elements into a game that is equally accessible to casual players, what is wrong with that?

In a strange way I would class my "LADDY" friends who play fifa or COD as casual gamers whereas someone who spends HOURS on puzzle quest essentually a casual game with a dressing gown on as hardcore gamers. I don't think any particular games are casual or hardcore as such its your attitude towards them. I don't know anyone my age who has never played mario for example and most own the plumber in some form or another, people who play it at a friends house occasionally are causal. People who get 240 odd stars in galaxy 2 are hardcore. You find as well that alot of games nowadays are a mix between casual and hardcore. Someting like soul calibur or mario kart say...

Its a growing industry, I think its an amazing art form others don't. I love Duchamp, Rothko, Dali and Picaso. Idiots don't!

John Funk:
You know, for all we disagree I can usually respect the points you make and see where you're coming from. This time, I just disagree. I don't think that the presence of mainstream gaming/music/movies replaces the other things. They'll still exist, but there will be things in addition to games targeted at the core.

I think it's a bit unfair of you to assume that the man who made Thief and Deus Ex is selling out just because of the subject matter. It's like he directly said: Gamers need to be able to let a man who made a game about a cyborg in a trenchcoat and sunglasses make a game about a little cartoon mouse. If he does Epic Mickey and successfully incorporates "hardcore" gameplay elements into a game that is equally accessible to casual players, what is wrong with that?

Ah... but the slight difference between music/movies and games is the cost... while music and movie-making requires largely talent and there's great examples of good productions that cost somewhere in the low thousands to make, making games doesn't only require talent in designing them, but also a lot of talented programmers, graphics artists, sound artists and others to even have the chance of turning a profit... and even then a project can fail out of various dozens of reasons with 20%+ of them not even reaching a delivery date and even more probably dieing in their infancy because of a lack of marketing or other similar things...

There may be projects that have the integrity and ambitions of old and companies that still hold those values high, but they're getting rarer and rarer and are usually just short minigames in the indie scene producing things like World of Goo, Zeno Clash, Trine, Darwinia and the likes but I've basically just given up on ever seeing games on par with Baldur's Gate, Fallout 1+2, good Adventure games rivaling the LucasArts and Adventuresoft classics (although Telltale is on the right way they are missing something), good turn based games (last I really enjoyed was King's Bounty and that was from a Russian company), fresh ideas well implemented like the stuff Bullfrog gradually came up with (from Dungeon Keeper over Populous to Theme Hospital) or even shooters similar to Jedi Knight 2, Soldier of Fortune or the likes without being coverbased instaheal campfests set in endless wastelands of brown and grey.

As for Warren Spector, I don't think he sold out :P Actually I might believe that he is following his dream seeing as he left Ion Storm out of his own free will and founded Junction Point to work on cartoon characters:

In 2004, Spector left Ion Storm to "pursue personal interests outside the company". In 2005, it was announced that he had established a new studio Junction Point Studios, where he is working on an unspecified game to be built with Valve's Source engine and released through Valve's Steam digital distribution system. A job advertisement for the studio called for artists for a game that has "classic Hollywood cartoons" featuring "cartoon mice, cats and wabbits". On July 13, 2007, it was announced that Disney Interactive had acquired Junction Point Studios. His first project with Disney Interactive is a project involving classic Disney characters, titled Epic Mickey. The game has been confirmed to be a Steampunk title and is being designed exclusively for the Wii. Spector has contributed a great deal to video game theory, and constantly promotes the importance of proper execution of ideas in video games.

but in doing so he certainly doesn't solicit the same audience and just contributes to the "problem" in times where fresh and ambitious ideas are rare and cash-ins reign supreme (and yes Farmville is an extreme example of exactly just that xD) by going "mainstream".

murphy7801:
I hate to say this but the world is full of idiots and are culture merely plays to dumbing down now they want to muscle in and dumb down a bastion of art and culture warren spector you have sold out to my mind to be saying this.

You might want to consider learning how to spell 'our', reading up on some basic grammar, and rereading your posts to see whether they make any sense before accusing the rest of the world of being 'idiots'.

-Bim

bimbley:

murphy7801:
I hate to say this but the world is full of idiots and are culture merely plays to dumbing down now they want to muscle in and dumb down a bastion of art and culture warren spector you have sold out to my mind to be saying this.

You might want to consider learning how to spell 'our', reading up on some basic grammar, and rereading your posts to see whether they make any sense before accusing the rest of the world of being 'idiots'.

-Bim

Im dsylexic

This was a fantastic keynote. I've thought for a while now that Warren Spector is a mad crazy genius, and this speech showed him to be extremely charismatic and thoughtful as well. I'm very glad that he was the speaker this year (my first PAX!) and I very much hope that they put it on Ustream or something like they did last year's. More people should hear this speech.

Adzma:
My only problem with casual gaming is when it bleeds on to established hardcore titles. Sure a company wants to broaden their audience, but don't ignore your long term fans in the process.

oranger:
The reason we the gamers flip out over casual gaming is because there isn't an infinite amount of money to make video games.
Casual gaming dilutes the pool, so to speak. And we don't generally like casual games like we do -regular- games.

You guys are right. After the most casual system came out (the Wii) Nintendo never attempted to produce any of their huge landmark games like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, the Cart series, or even Super Smash Brothers.

You know, if these developers tackle the casual market, there is a lot more money for a lot less work in there. I think PopCap is the highest earning game company with only a handful of employees. The extra revenue from the casual games are used to fund the IPs. They keep making them for two reasons, they sell huge and the producers like them too. I doubt they will just throw it away because there are a ton of kids playing resort or a few moms on Wii fit. Hell, it is easier to convince the Mrs. to have a game system in the house if there is family interaction and it can do more than just rot your brain.

Nerds have always been too frightened of change for their own good.

It's because (many of) the sort of people who get into nerdy hobbies (like computer gaming, or roleplaying, or art-house films, etc. etc.) are interested in these things because they're niche.

Nerds like being expert at things, and being king of a niche hobby is especially satisfying - because mainstream people don't even have the slightest idea what you're talking about, much less any chance at expert knowledge or skill. We like to feel superior to ordinary people, and dammit the fact that I know more about Star Wars than the average man on the street means that I am superior.

So if your nerdy niche hobby is in danger of becoming - gasp - mainstream, it's terrifying. Terrifying, because the obscure knowledge you spent years (possibly) learning and becoming expert in is suddenly not so esoteric any more. Now anyone can learn how to play the games you've been practising with all your life.

Worse - your hobby is being made simpler, so that suddenly you don't need to learn arcane passwords and dying arts in order to enjoy it - now anyone can get involved. It's easy.

The skills you've been honing over the past decades don't matter any more, because now videogame controllers don't have 102 awkwardly placed buttons and switches - and now they actually fit in a human hand comfortably (with buttons right where your fingers naturally rest).

Some controllers even respond to instinctive movements of the human hand and body - something that anyone can use immediately, rendering all your experience with controllers wasted.

It's not fair.

Given all that, it's not really a surprise that nerds are horrified and resentful when their hobbies become open to the mainstream. But it is short-sighted.

We can pretend that joining the mainstream is 'dumbing down' or some such, but more consumers mean more money and more investment, and that means our hobby continues to grow.

Larger markets don't destroy art and innovation - they make it more possible. More gamers means more people interested in making games, more companies interested in producing games and more money floating around to make and purchase those games.

It probably means that a lot of shit will get made - but that's no different to the last twenty years.

It also means that the good games get better.

I'm pretty much down with Soylent Dave here.

Having seen many other things I love throughout my life become mainstream (dinosaurs, Transformers, heavy metal, comic books) I have to admit; most of it was shit. But some real genius came out of what was left over.

It does me no harm to have the masses love 'popular' heavy metal when I'm getting bands that are often lesser known but doing something that speaks to me.

/but no one should forgive the Transformers movies. Ever.

Soylent Dave:
snip

It's pretty much this.

You can be a bitter bastard about it and complain that nothing is ever going to be the same - and hold on to your old ideals, but really, all you do is stay in denial. The world changes, the 'fads' change, and there's nothing that you can really do about it.

Having said that, it's hard to accept those that have scorned the material as fans of it, and to think that the future of games will be a simple point-and-click game dependent on the network of people you know - it is scary indeed.

One has to just hope that like the indie movements in both music and movies, there will be people that stay with the games that we know.

Spector is a god and I worship him as one.

I don't have a problem with casual gamers or even shovelware. The more people playing games, any game, the bigger the market is.

But I do have a problem with Zynga scamming and spamming. They are scammers and spammers first and game developers second. And I wish someone would release an open source version of Farmville and put them out of business.

Actual picture of Zynga employees:

image

music is a mirror for "nerds" passions, how many people only listen to obscure bands, and when they get popular suddenly they are complaining. granted often when bands get popular its because they do in fact go more mainstream, see metallica for a prime example. that used to make record out of a garage and had 10 15 minute songs and no mtv for us we too underground and cool, then the dam broke they made a mtv video, they toured on their record that became bigger because of that video and then their songs got shorter perfect for mtv videos and radio play.

some bands resist these trends and become popular on their own talent. tool and primus would be two bands that i would pick that do music they way they want to do it and became popular because of that not because they changed the way they did things. does not stop some fans from grumbling but most hardcore fans still support them because they are in fact the same band even at the peak of their popularity as they were when they started just with more fans.

but mainstream is often interchangable with lowest common denominator that is also a basic fact. whats cheap, whats easy, and what sells. from tv to movies to pop music often what is wildly popular is pretty trashy, and what challenges things is often running the ragged edge of cancellation.

yea games are mainstream yea your grandmother and sister may be playing farmville, but that is a great because they are spending less time nagging you about your cod habit or your wow playtime. when people enjoy a game any game they gain understanding of what you see in the game you play.

but this just means that publishers know what sells, take less risks, pump out the same stuff over and over because it makes sense. the golden age of gaming has to be wary of becoming the bloated mediocre age of gaming.

just the way the comic boon lead to an over glut of the comic shelves with a ton of stuff that was not worth putting on paper. or the way movies exploded and now most of hollywood churns out utter crap. or reality tv exploded and tv lineups were so filled with the stuff because it was cheap to make easy to produce you did not have to pay stars big bucks to act.

games are doubly in danger of falling into a black hole of lameness simply due to the fact that games are so expensive to make. thank god for the handful of publishers that do take risks every now and again, and the smaller game makers that make smaller but good games.

piracy certianly does not help the cause of the gaming industry, when pirates cost you dollars on your sure sell and big ticket games, it makes publishers and game makers even less willing to take chances on something that is not a sure hit. they need the bank from the games that are sellers if they going to invest in something a bit riskier.

so basically in the end i think he should have gone on to talk about the dangers of going mainstream about the challenges the gaming industry as a whole faces. and borrow some ideas form extra credits like having a miramax division at mega publishers where smaller game designers get a chance to take risks for much smaller budgets. under the wing of a big publisher that stays out of the mix and lets these designers work as long as they are producing stuff in a reasonable amount of time.

I love Warren Spector, but I (sadly) disagree with him on this keynote. Spector said that "we need to embrace mainstreamers who love what we love, not fear them." I do embrace mainstreamers who love what I love.

The problem is that the mainstreamers Warren is talking about DON'T love what I love. I don't geek out over games just because they are games. I geek out over games because they are about things I love - fantasy, science fiction, military history, adventure. I also geek out over other products that are about these things, like fantasy movies, science fiction books, and comics. I do not geek out about, say, indie drama movies, romance novels, and political cartoons, even though they share the mediums of things I do geek out about.

Warren is fundamentally confusing the medium (games) with the culture (escapism/speculative fiction/geek). "Geek culture" hasn't achieved a victory because the mainstream plays games. All that's happened is that mainstream culture has co-opted our favorite medium to deploy in support of *its* culture.

There might be incidental benefits if through exposure to gaming, the mainstream is exposed to cultural content that it otherwise wouldn't have been (Halo, CoD), but it's more likely that we are looking at a future where the AAA games are the equivalent of chic-lit bestsellers, while the sci-fi/fantasy/action games that we love are relegated to the back of the bookstore in the genre section. And that DOES suck.

 

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